Wet in Wales

Wales is well known for its rugby, singing, daffodils and sheep. Perhaps as today is the first weekend of the Six Nations 2016 I should be blogging about the chances of Wales winning the tournament (which are pretty good), but I have been overwhelmed this morning by the reason for all those sheep. After all you can’t have sheep without grass, and you can’t have grass without rain. And boy has it been raining this morning.

This morning, despite the deluge, I felt the need to be out walking. I pulled on all my waterproofs and equipped myself with a camera small enough to fit in my water tight pocket. After all, there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. My intention from there was just to pay attention to what was happening and create a few mindful photographs that captured the experience.

It was a fine intention and one that could be just about achieved by carefully sheltering the camera under my body or shop awning, but the rain still gets in. So these three photos tell some of the tale. The header photo is of the path through Brynmill Park, cleverly disguising itself as a river.

By the time I reached the Uplands, a ten minute walk, the torrent had found its way through the gaps in my waterproof apparel. This photo captures my mood, and the suggestion I should just take my medicine almost brought a smile to my face (not)

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Obviously, after completing my shopping chores, somewhere to dry out was required. I sheltered in a local cafe, once most appropriately named Steam, but now re-branded Squirrel. Perhaps it was apposite; I must have been nuts to venture out!

I sat there facing the scene you see below, watching the locals scurrying about, hooded and hunkered. I reflected that the rugby later in the day was likely to be attritional, but at least the sheep would be happy – it’s still warm enough for the grass to be growing!

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Using one focal length

Mindful photography is about being present with what you see. It is also about adapting to the situation. I often use a simple set up for my practice; usually a single focal length lens (a 40mm) on my DSLR. This is my go to, walkabout lens.

I choose to use this lens because the focal length is very similar to how we see (which is around 43mm, albeit with a greater width and a mind that looks to zoom in). Using one lens regularly, particularly one that is similar to how we see improves our seeing and how best to create photos that reflect what we see. Using this one lens I become attuned to the camera’s way of seeing. I begin to think in terms of how the camera will record the scene.

Over time this photographic thinking, which includes colour rendition, the framing, composition and the dynamic range of the light, becomes learnt and familiar. With continued practice, reviewing the outcomes and adjusting my technical choices, I begin to know what to expect from my camera. Through this doorway lies the possibility of reacting more instinctively to the scene, allowing my subconscious to make more of the technical and compositional choices. In this moment I let go of trying (to take a great photo) and allow the creation to occur. Through this process the possibility that there may be something of me, and the way I feel about the world, in the photo becomes more likely.

When I first tried shooting a whole year using just one lens I did it for reasons of artistic impression. Using just one focal length creates a unifying similarity to your photos. This can be beneficial if the photos you are creating are part of an ongoing project. It is ideal for those 365 projects that comprise of one photo a day. Then along the way you will also reap the benefits of instinctive creation and greater connection between what you are seeing and how you feel about the the world you are experiencing.

The photos that accompany this post illustrate my musings. A visited Caswell Bay, the Redcliff end, with Taylor to take him surfing. However, I decided to take my camera with the 40mm lens on, rather than the big zoom, and not shoot surfing photos. Instead I would see what was there and respond to my experience. I chose a black and white edit because of the high contrast of the scene.

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Surfing Three Peaks @ Llangennith

London Street Photography

Over the last couple of months I have made two visits to London. Each time the coach has arrived in enough time to deposit my bag at my accommodation, before heading into the city to explore a little dusk time street photography.

Unfortunately, my photos from the first trip were not backed up before my hard disk drive collapsed under the strain. Most of my edited photos from 2015 are currently missing. Many I have in their original raw state (nearly 2000!) but the November London photos have vanished. I know – always back up your work.

The photos here are my favourites from a couple of hours around Piccadilly Circus, the photo above being my absolute favourite. I had noticed that the intermittent rain had brought out the umbrellas and was considering using the big advertising lights at Piccadilly Circus as a backdrop when I saw the potential for a silhouette. I only had to wait in position for less than 10 minutes before the couple came past, sheltering together under their umbrella. Result.

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Sky, sea and sand

We have been fortunate over the last few days to experience a little sunshine in between the showers. As it has pretty much rained every day since November I have been very keen to get out and experience the sun.

Whilst I have been walking I have particularly been drawn to the interplay between the sky, sea and land. Each of the photos below is a favourite that illustrates that relationship. The light, patterns, textures, reflections, contrast and colours all have called me to create a photograph that demonstrates the demarcations and echoes between each of these elements.

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Four mindful photos

A couple of days ago I went for my regular circular walk. As Monty is currently away experiencing the Gower I decided to strap on my headphones, put my music on random and follow my eyes.

The walk takes me down local urban streets into a large park. Halfway round Singleton Park there is a cut through between Swansea University and Singleton Hospital that links up with the boating lake and park. From there you can cross the main road onto Swansea Beach and walk back amongst sandy footprints towards town, before heading back across the main road, up through the bottom of Singleton Park and back to the house.

What a joy to be able to experience this variety of views and terrains. The walk is around 4 km and takes between 40 and 80 minutes depending upon the number of photographic stops and prevailing wind!

The four photos I have chosen represent the three main areas traversed. For the photo that heads this post I was intrigued to contrast the urban telephone lines with nature’s more colourful lines. The second photo below was created to set the portentous sky against the dazzling lime green, golden sunlit trees. The third photo juxtaposes nature’s winter bones with ugly man-made purpose; also lit by the same golden morning light. The final photo was created to reflect the lines of beach, wet sand, sea with yet more ominous clouds.

What a difference a little golden light makes to creation of beautiful photos!

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Oxwich Point Surf

As the father of an avid surfing son I often get dragged out to explore new surf spots. This way I have ventured out to places on the Gower, such as Pete’s Reef, Bluepool and now Oxwich Point, that I would probably not visit otherwise.

Oxwich Point, I am reliably informed by Taylor, only works as a surf break when there is a huge swell, low tide and south – westerly winds. These conditions have been pretty regular over this holiday season, as big swells have piled in on the back of ex hurricanes and Storm Frank.

It is a 10 minute walk out from the Oxwich car park, down to the Point. Most of the way there is a sandy route, only as you get close to the end is rock scrabbling required. The day we went there was a 50 mph wind whipping round the headland, providing a challenge just to stand upright whilst watching Taylor catching clean breaking 5-6ft waves.

It was interesting to be stood almost at 45° to the breaking wave, but unfortunately Taylor was then mainly surfing with his back to me. So I had to wait for a top turn to get a glimpse of his face – generally a desirous effect even for a surf photo! Anyway, here are my favourite few, with a final portrait as requested by his Grandmother.

 

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Twelve Photos

Would you like to take part in a monthly photo project? All you’ll need is a camera and a Facebook account. It’s just for fun and for the pleasure of having a monthly photo challenge.

I will be posting one word a month that you will then represent in a photograph. There are no rules. Whatever the word suggests to you visually is OK. All you have to do is post the photo each month to the Facebook Group page Twelve Photos.

Feel free to share the group with your friends. Let’s get social! The word for January is Beginning

Looking forward to seeing your photos.

Surfing Santas

Yesterday Surfing Santas took to the waves for a competition run by Llangennith-based WSF Surf School and Langland Bay Riders Surf Club in aid of Wales Air Ambulance and Waves for Water charity.

I braved the horizontal and torrential rain to collect a few photos at Langland: bringing Christmas to the Gower waves.

 

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Technical Challenge

I recently won 2 tickets to see Guy Garvey in one of those innumerable subscription email draws. After I adjusted to the surprise that these things did actually lead to a real prize arrangements were made.

The key photography decision was what camera to take. After the recent events in Paris I expected security to be rigorous and that taking the DSLR in might not be possible. I opted to take my Canon G7X, a high end compact with a 1″ sensor. This would be better than my mobile phone camera which really struggles in low light situations.

Once Guy started I took a few test shots to see how the camera performed in the light. I was about 10 metres or more from the stage and the camera has a limited zoom, so holding it high to avoid all those heads in front was a must. I had the camera set up on an average aperture (f4 is equivalent to a mid range setting on this camera) and the ISO on auto, so that I didn’t have to worry about shutter speed. Despite all the stage lighting I was getting ISO ratings at the top end 6400 – 12,800, so I knew that there would be a lot of digital noise in the photos.

The camera struggled to focus sometimes and the split-second shutter lag often meant that getting the shot I was trying for was hit and miss. Generally I watched for the light and the more successful photos are the first two below, where the lighting situation created interest.

I converted all the chosen photos into black and white to handle the digital noise. Generally there were few other adjustments, apart from to remove objects that distracted from the photo’s object (Mr Garvey!).

Creating photos where the conditions and camera impose limitations is a stimulating exercise. In fact, imposing limitations where there are none can often result in the most original and inspired photos. I have used wide apertures, set shutter speeds and de-focus to limit how I can create photos. The practice is invigorating!

What do you think of the photos? The gig was excellent. Guy Garvey’s new album ‘Courting the squall’ is diverse and multi-layered, with trademark poetic lyrics. Give it a go.

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Alec Soth exhibition

If you should find yourself in London between now and March 2016 I recommend that you visit the Alec Soth Gathered Leaves exhibition in the Media Space at the Science Museum.

This is the first major UK exhibition from this award winning American photographer and surveys a decade of Soth’s work, highlighting his career as one of the world’s top photographers. The exhibition includes four of his signature series, including the UK première of his recent project Songbook.

I particularly found his Broken Manual series inspiring. Soth explores what it is to desire to run away, survive and look into who we are. His work documents several men living unsupported in the wilder parts of America and is melancholic and moving.

The exhibition has a refreshing attitude to photography. You are encouraged to take photographs of the photos and share. The photo above illustrates my desire to capture the relationship between photo and viewer; present, engaged and inspired.

 

Are you feeling it?

Photos have the power to convey emotion. The way we choose to compose the scene and the technical choices we make can combine with the content to represent a feeling, through visual metaphor or symbolism.

Sometimes this is deliberately created at the moment of pressing the shutter. Sometimes it reveals itself later; maybe a happy accident or subconscious guidance. Either way it is a powerful way of communicating with the viewer.

The truth is in the viewing. Of course the emotion or feeling that the photographer intends to convey may not be what the viewer experiences. Cultural background and personal experiences guide our interpretation of visual imagery. That there may be several interpretations is not necessarily a weakness of the photo. Inspiring diverse emotions from one photo may be a strength.

Let’s look at some examples from a recent walk around Langland Bay. Notice the feelings that these photos generate for you before you read the text below.

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Photo 1 suggests uncertainty for me. Through a shallow depth of field I have created the representation of an unclear future, we cannot see where the path may lead. Though if we consider the truth of the scene, we know that Monty can see the way forward.

Photo 2 is in a similar vein to Photo 1. There is a degree of uncertainty and also potential barriers to what is unseen

Photo 3 suggests positive possibility (blue sky, sunshine), but also change (the autumnal leaves). For me these elements combine to imply change, opportunity and a hopeful future outcome.

Photo 4 uses a strong symbol to suggest that there is a clear direction we need to go. However the indistinct background could imply that the journey’s experiences may be uncertain.

What feelings did the photos inspire for you? Post your thoughts below in the comments box.

Scenes from a London hospital

I have recently spent a few days at Charing Cross Hospital, as part of my ongoing care and investigation into my laryngeal condition. The stay was unplanned and helped to allieviate an acute situation.

Having not planned to stay I was unprepared. Fortunately Beci was able to gather suitable, clothing, food and some reading material for me. But I was without camera.

I have never been impressed by the camera on my mobile phone, but the best camera is the one you have with you! I also found it enlivening to push the boundaries of what was possible with the Sony Xperia phone camera.

Using the manual features of software and careful technique, particularly for longer exposures, I was able to create a few evocative and abstract photos I really liked.

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Paignton – a mindful photography practice

I lived in Paignton between the ages 11 and 16. It was the early 70s. In fact I have just created a 70s playlist to accompany me as I write this piece. I am currently with The Eagles ‘Take it easy’; Neil Young, The Steve Miller Band, Bob Dylan, Supertramp, Thin Lizzy and the Vapours are all on their way!

So when I visited earlier this week there was a nostalgic video of teenage high (and low) lights playing in my head. In fact, many of the memories of actual events were also jumbled up with memories of more recent dreams of the streets, parks and areas of Paignton I frequented. This fragmented video track was stimulated by my route through the town and down to the seafront. Of course it all appeared a lot smaller than it used to be and a lot less busy.

I parked at the back of the town centre park, close to where I recall the library used to be. As a kid I visited this many times and still check out books in my dreams. But the library was long gone, in place was a new development of retirement flats. I wandered on through the park, remembering the shortcut to the seafront I used to whizz through on my bike. This was all much as it used to be, but with an absence of ducks.

My summer memories of Paignton seafront are of a beach and lawned area rammed with grockles (tourists). Often there was hardly a patch of grass or sand to be had by lunch time. This time I wandered through and found it busy, but with plenty of space. Once down on the front I found the photography flowed. I felt comfortable, at home amongst familiar scenes, and I believe that the photos below carry some of that warmth, as well as a curiosity to capture the British tourist at play.

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Sunny Promenaders

My ongoing exploration of creating abstract photos of people promenading around Swansea Bay has recently been illuminated by our summer sunshine. After the last set, taken at a difficult time on a dank day, I thought I would share the latest, more upbeat, examples.

These were taken at a cafe that sits on the promenade near my entrance onto Swansea Bay. The cafe seats are perhaps a little closer to the subjects promenading than in other examples and I had to dial down the aperture a little as it was so bright. Which one is your favourite?

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Film Style – a mindful photography practice

I was feeling a little dazed this morning. An early rise and ragged breathing left me with a sense of disconnectedness. As I had to take Taylor to work in Mumbles I thought I would change my routine, drop him off and then do a mindful photography practice to ground me.

The ‘Film Style’ practice is a space, time and feature limited photo activity. Its aim is to create 24 photos (a là film) on your digital camera using as many manual features as you feel comfortable using. The key ingredient is that you turn off your review screen so that you cannot see the photos as you take them. This replicates the idea that film photography generates, that by not seeing what you are creating you only have your viewfinder/screen to guide you, and you know you will not be able to see the result. This encourages a slower, more considered pace of photography, allowing you to tune in to your current experience and particularly the visual experience.

If you have a DSLR or CSC with viewfinder you can also tape up or turn off the screen, so you only compose the photo through the viewfinder. Where the lens or camera allows, you can also choose to turn off the auto focus and only manually focus the lens. This further supports an attentiveness to the practice.

The Practice

Choose a small area, no bigger than 100 x 100 metres. When you arrive sit in the space and pay attention to your sensory information. What can you feel, smell, touch, hear and see? When you feel you have completely arrived start to move around your environment following the 4 stage seeing practice.

Create 24 photos. No more, no less. Keeping count in your head is a practice in itself! When you have 24 photos (or think you have) leave your space and return home. Do not look at your photos until you get home.

Editing

When I download and review the photos I initially select in. Rather than excluding the ones I don’t like, I select the ones I do like, often on an instinctive reaction. Out of 24 I would hope to have at least 5 I would like to share. Editing wise I do very little. Some minor cropping and a little light adjustment to replicate how I felt when I originally saw the scene.

Here are my favourite photos from this morning’s practice. Which one is your favourite?

Wet and gloomy

I don’t have any photos of Wasp Fest for you. Shame. Unfortunately, I had to cancel as my breathing became challenging – I have now embarked on a course of steroids for relief and things are beginning to ease.

Instead of driving to Somerset for a groovy festival, I drove to Mumbles to sulk and take gloomy photos. The continual fine rain suited my mood and I instinctively reverted to an ongoing project – The Promenaders. This is inspired by the photographer Isobella Berr and involves the use of my 50mm lens, a f1.4 aperture and manual de-focus.

I love the curved people like shapes created and this was the first time I had experimented on a dull, wet day. What do you think?

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Eric Kim on Street Photography

Eric Kim is a passionate street photographer and prolific blogger based in Berkeley, California. I found his blog when looking for photographers who combined photography with a philosophic approach to life. It was probably through some random google search combining photography and zen, and Eric tumbled out.

Eric’s blog is a well of wisdom for the street photographer and is underpinned by his belief in open source photography, which basically means that he believes in sharing, for free, all of his knowledge and resources. His mission is ‘to spread and promote the love of street photography’. And boy does he do that!

In addition to his regular posts he offers a number of free e books, covering topics including: an introduction to street photography, street portraits, overcoming fear of street photography, a social media overview and my particular favourite, Zen in the Art of Street Photography. Eric describes this as “a compilation of all of my favorite articles on Zen, Taoism, Buddhism, gratitude, and other random philosophical musings.” It is an intriguing and thought provoking read.

However, the best starting point is this page which shares: the e book links, a free online introductory course, videos, popular and must read articles, posts on master street photographers, composition, philosophy, equipment, marketing, business, travelling, recommended books, other blogs, collectives, movies, laws, Flickr groups and the Streettogs Academy. That is some list huh?

The last item, Streettogs, is a Facebook group for doing, sharing and commenting on street photography assignments. It also has separate pages for discussion, critique and equipment.

I have always been drawn to the challenges and life of street photography. It is not something I have done enough of and would certainly be something I could develop as a mindful project. Thanks to Eric and his marvelous blog, I will have any question that I might have answered.

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Lilies

These lilies were collected by Beci from her parent’s garden (at least they get to appreciate them now from the comfort of their Spanish computer). I thought I would try and create some photos that celebrated the lilies flamboyance and delicacy.

For those who are interested in these things: I used a 50mm lens with a reversing ring, which turns it into macro lens with a very shallow depth of field. Great for adding some mystery to the beauty.

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Seeing the Music

The Activity

This photography activity is inspired by my friend Mel’s ‘Walk/Listen/Respond Project’. I have taken Mel’s base rules and adapted then for my needs!

My rules are: [1] Plan an album length walk. [2] Choose an album to match your mood/weather/walk/whatever. [3] Walk. [4] Respond to the music intuitively. Let it play through you. Create photos that reflect how the music makes you feel. [5] Edit photos whilst listening to same album. [6] Share your favourites.

The Album

I chose to listen to War, Peace and Diplomacy by Tom Hickox and you can listen here.  I love his soothing, deep voice and thought it would be uplifting. I was forgetting the title of the album! Whilst the songs are tales of war, peace and diplomacy and the overall tone is somewhat melancholic, there are also themes of love and hope. Phew.

I didn’t set out to create a photo for each song. More to allow the music to flow through me; the words seeping into my subconscious and the melodies into my bones. from there I simply responded to the visual stimulation.

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